My top films of 2017 list will arrive after Christmas; for now, here are 17 scenes which stood out for me from cinema over the past year, listed in alphabetical order of film title:
A Quiet Passion – The Time Lapse Photo. In Terence Davies’ filmic depiction of Emily Dickinson’s life and poetry, there is a brief moment where a young Dickinson sits for a photograph and ages before our eyes. Cynthia Nixon’s portrayal of Dickinson is phenomenal, but it’s this brief moment of dissolve/montage which really stands out for me.
Baby Driver – The Opening Credits Coffee Run. I don’t think the rest of Edgar Wright’s crime-musical sustains the energy and delight of its opening chase scene, followed by this sequence of Baby (Ansel Elgort) dancing through the streets with his ever-present iPod and earbuds.
Columbus – Outside The Bank. This moment where Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) describes why she loves the bank building’s architecture is perfectly directed and framed. We can only see her expressions and never hear her words. Yet it’s her expression and gestures which tell us everything we need.
Dunkirk – The Ending. Watching Tom Hardy’s silent plane land on the beach framed by the sunset as Churchill’s speech is read was profound for me. Good people doing good for others was a much-needed narrative for 2017.
Get Out – The Police Car. Another perfect ending to a blistering critique of American culture.
I, Tonya – “You were all my attackers.” I had some mixed feelings on this film overall with its bombastic approach, but Robbie gives it all for this performance, and her monologue accusing America of abusing her gave me chills.
Meyerowitz Stories – The Pool Cue. A moment of comedic genius. So much of this film relies on the editing for its humor, and this short scene is a great example. I could only find the gif below, which highlights the physical comedy throughout.
Personal Shopper – Text messages. It’s difficult to effectively incorporate texting in films these days, as it can often become as dull or distracting as someone texting in the middle of a personal conversation. Yet Olivier Assayas’ film about fashion and ghosts not only involves the texting medium, it makes it a central part of the narrative, even a way of building suspense. As Kristen Stewart’s medium/shopper travels on a train, the series of disconcerting messages she receives create tension even as they reveal more of her character’s fears and desires.
Princess Cyd – The Soiree and Conversation. There’s a lengthy dinner party scene in the middle of Stephen Cone’s tender and beautiful film. It’s filled with wonderful characters, and the film patiently allows us to spend time with each of them.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Admiral Holdo Going to Lightspeed. There are so many scenes and shots I could have included here–the lightsaber battle in Snoke’s chamber; the opening battle with Rose’s sister making a critical sacrifice; the salt flats; Luke and Leia; Holdo and Leia; just Leia. But Holdo’s sacrificial act moved me both for its heroism as well as Rian Johnson’s direction of the sequence. A unique cinematic moment in the Star Wars universe.
The Florida Project – Bobby Fixing the Power. Bobby just wants to fix things for people, and when he’s able to–like when he can turn the electricity back on for the Magic Castle Inn–he’s a bonafide hero for the tenants. Willem Dafoe’s performance is one of his best, but it’s also the framing and direction of the sequence which stands out–a wide shot of the rows of doors as each slowly open to reveal the upset tenant inside while Bobby quickly strolls across the parking lot.
The Lost City of Z – The Final 20 Minutes. It’s hard to describe how this is all one scene, but the entire sequence of events in the finale of James Gray’s film are rapturous. Gray is a master of final shots, and this sepia-and-golden-hued ending is no exception.
The Other Side of Hope – Washing the Window. This site gag from the droll comedy makes me laugh every time I think about it. Aki Kaurismaki is a Finnish delight.
The Square – Ape Man. Ruben Ostlund’s Cannes-winning satire of art culture and high society has so much going on within it, which serves as both a weakness and a strength). The most memorable scene involves a very fancy dinner and an artist gone rogue in his performance as a monkey. I had such a wide range of reactions and emotions viewing this sequence–confusion, humor, sadness, anger, disgust, frustration, horror.
The Unknown Girl – An Embrace. The Dardennes’ cinematic parables feature powerful cathartic endings, and The Unknown Girl captures such a moment in a brief hug shared between two characters in its final moments. It’s such a simple gesture, but knowing the story leading up this moment is what makes it so extraordinary and affecting. The Dardennes frame it with simplicity, which is what makes it so resonant and memorable. It’s the extraordinary shining through the ordinary.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – The Opening Sequence. Set to Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” hundreds of years pass by in a montage of sci-fi wonder as we see a variety of human and alien species encounter one another. Honorable mention: the 3D multidimensional chase scene in the Big Market.
Wonder Woman – Diana entering “No Man’s Land.” For me, this remains the best scene of the year, a powerful, affecting moment which is difficult to capture in words. It’s an action sequence, sure, but it’s much more than that–it’s an inspiring cinematic statement. I admit, I well up with tears each time I see it (and I saw this film three times in theatres). Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot have created something significant here.
What were some of your favorite movie scenes from 2017?